KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Just days after an Allegan County soldier passed away, Sgt. Mark Schoonhoven’s family is telling FOX 17 a story of not only a fallen soldier and a hero, but that of a good man.
Sgt. Schoonhoven may have joined the military later in life, at 32, but his family said he was a passionate leader and climbed up the ranks quickly.
“He was always there,” the soldier’s mother cried.
Harry and Deb Schoonhoven sit close together on their couch in Kalamazoo, holding hands, talking about the time their son first told them he was joining the Army.
“We were proud,” Deb said. “We thought he would just sit back and be a regular soldier. Being in the military made a man out of him”
Harry laughed, “He beat the crap out of the 20-year-olds.”
After only about two months of marriage, the 38-year-old sergeant headed back to Afghanistan for his third tour last November; this time he volunteered.
“(Mark) did it because he wanted to take care of the (soldiers) underneath him,” Harry said.
According to the Department of Defense, Schoonhoven’s unit was hit with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on Dec. 15. The Plainwell native stayed in a coma and fought for his life for five weeks in a Texas hospital; his mother and new wife stayed at his side.
“They wanted us to go on tours or go enjoy ourselves,” Deb said. “I just didn’t feel it was right.”
For Deb, what felt right was being with her son, even if he couldn’t hear her talking.
“We feel he knew we were there,” she said.
For weeks, Deb said she had conversations with Mark about the future.
“His wife kept reminding him that he had six children to come back to,” she said.
The children range in age from 6-months to 17 years. Deb remembered the baby’s last visit; she was bundled up in sterile hospital gear.
“We snuck the glove off one hand and let him hold (the baby’s) hand,” Deb said. “(Her mother) let her go up and feel (Mark’s) face. And she giggled. And made her little sound. And (Mark’s) eyes kind of perked up, but he never woke up.”
Sgt. Mark Schoonhoven passed away at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston on Jan. 20.
Deb said, as a mother, she thought she saw signs of her son getting better. She remained hopeful that she’d see her son’s blue eyes once again.
“He will be missed,” Deb breaks down, “very missed.”
Now, a solemn memorial stands in the Schoonhoven’s backyard; a constant reminder of the love they have for their son, and the selfless sacrifice of their soldier.
The family said they are working with the military to bring Schoonhoven’s remains back to West Michigan in the first week of February. That’s when a full military precession through the streets will be planned. We will pass along details of when and where this will happen as soon as they become available.
Sgt. Schoonhoven was assigned to the 32nd Transportation Company, 43rd Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.